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New West Virginia addition Gabe Osabuohien starts to flash potential

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In its 84-53 win over Austin Peay on Thursday night, West Virginia caught a glimpse of what a fully formed Gabe Osabuohien might look like.

Osabuohien didn’t stuff the box score, but the 6-foot-8 forward made sure nearly every line of it was accounted for in his 20 minutes off the bench. His numbers looked like someone rattling off the gifts in “Twelve Days of Christmas” — five assists, four points, three rebounds, two steals.

The only thing missing was a blocked shot and a partridge in a pear tree.

When Osabuohien plays, it’s clear why Bob Huggins wanted him on the team. He brings instant energy. Seen in person, it erases the question “What’s the big deal about a guy who averaged 3.1 points and 3.2 rebounds a game at Arkansas?”

The Toronto native spent two years with the Razorbacks, drawn to coach Mike Anderson’s full-court chaos. Anderson left Arkansas for St. John’s, and Osabuohien was left looking for a program where he could find a playing style that fit his tastes.

In his mind, only one option would do.

“West Virginia has a knack of being the hardest-playing team for 40 minutes,” Osabuohien said. “That’s definitely where I wanted to fit in.”

Now that he’s here, Osabuohien is committed to making sure the Mountaineers live up to the reputation they have on a national — and in his case, international — level.

“That needs to become our identity,” Osabuohien said. “That’s what Coach Huggins keeps on preaching. We want to get back to that old West Virginia, where people don’t want to play us. They know when they come in here that it’s going to be a hard game. We’re going to take away everything and give 100 percent on defense.

“We’re working at it. We’re not there yet. But once we get there, we’re going to be hard to stop.”

Osabuohien himself is evidence of West Virginia’s ability to continue improving as the season unfolds.

The junior missed WVU’s first three games awaiting a verdict from the NCAA on the status of his transfer waiver to play this season. When he finally got the thumbs-up prior to West Virginia’s game against Boston University, it was quite obvious he was a few pages behind the rest of the Mountaineers.

In his first two games against BU and Northern Iowa, Osabuohien was brutal — no points, three turnovers and six fouls in a combined 21 minutes.

“The first couple games, I was getting used to running our offense against real people,” he said. “Now I’m starting to get used to it. Starting to see the passes I can make out of it to help us out. I’m definitely starting to get more comfortable with it.”

Osabuohien seems a natural fit at the high post. And that is what potentially makes him an asset for the Mountaineers as Huggins continues to tinker with different ways of exploiting the size advantage his team will have against most of its opponents this season with Derek Culver, Oscar Tshiebwe and Logan Routt banging around in the low post.

“I think he can be [a very good passer],” Huggins said. “I don’t think he is now. But I think he can be.”

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